compassion, family, Life, Motherhood, Unschooling, Women

Family is our heritage

Eat. Chocolate. The heritage of the family. Or, as Blaise Paschal would say, the heart of the family.

I have often written of this heritage as  ‘strength’. That ability to cope, to keep going, to persevere. The heritage of strength. To never give up and, rightly or wrongly, to stick to being themselves, my family, with their agency and decision-making, both individualistic and collective.

Present, too, in my family, has been the strength to know when to cut your losses and make a change.

So, strength has been a theme, a thread, in the heritage of the family.

But I think there is more. To be honest, when I think of family love and family battles, of parties fading to fights, of solidarity and connectedness, I think of family itself. I realize that the heritage is more than a character trait or a story weaving its way through our lives, a tradition that keeps on being traditional. No, to reduce the family heritage to such simplicity is to do the heritage injustice. Because, ultimately, the heritage of our family is ‘family’ itself.

The ties that wind and bind, with love and sometimes dislike, inexplicably wrap us together as family. We pass on the intensity of the experience to our children. They, too, come to know family as a heritage that one can never quite escape.

And, surprisingly, we come to understand that the heritage of family is something you do not want to escape. It is you, your heritage. It is in all the good and all the bad. It is both the utopia and the dystopia.

It, family,  is there in the books and movies and music and quotes. The shared memories of childhood. The standing together against all odds, even in the busyness of life and the rare opportunity to gather as family.

We know life because of family.

This is our heritage.

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Catholicism, Life, Motherhood, religion, Unschooling, Women

It’s the small things

Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa
Life, Movies, Unschooling

A happiness project?

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‘He took comfort in the rich random patterns of his life.’

So Says Christopher Plummer, in the movie Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Hector, a psychiatrist perturbed by his life and its rhythms and routines, takes off for an adventure. He travels the world, he reconnects with old friends, and he asks people if they are happy and what makes them so. He scribbles their answers in his notebook, amongst sketches and quotes and dreams.

Hector asks, really, what is the nature of happiness.

I was reminded of this film by two things. An excellent blogpost by my friend on The Happiness Advantage, and a discussion with students at work yesterday, on what it means to be happy.

We, the students and I, pondered questions along these lines…..Is it enough to be happy or do we want meaning or flourishing or achievement in our lives? What about the role of pleasure? We compared Epicurus and Aristotle on happiness and eudaemonia. Thus, we discussed the nature of happiness…is it pleasure? Can a truly altruistic life be happy, or do we need some pleasures as well in our lives? Enjoying a cup of coffee, the smile of another, stretching out after a hard day. The ecstasy of prayer.

Ultimately, the students wondered about universal principles of happiness. Aristotle thought there were these principles, principles that lead to eudaemonia or flourishing. These build on what it means to be human and the idea of virtue.

Surprisingly, much of what Hector notes mirrors that of Aristotle. Aristotle points out, for example, that ‘Man is a political creature’, so that ‘man is a rational creature who lives in poleis (societies)’. Hector also notes the role of societies in happiness, writing that ‘It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people’.

This leads me to ponder happiness and human flourishing. Part of this is purpose and that corresponding P word, passion.

It helps to be aware of our purpose. To lead a life on purpose implies intention. For this, it seems to me, we need some time for prayer and reflection, as an ongoing thing and not just once-a-year. We also need to look at what it is that makes us smile, interests us, breeds enthusiasm (our passions).

And some of that is, simply, self-care. It’s hard to be purposive if we are generally tired or unwell or so busy that we don’t have time to just sit and be and pray. That’s the bone-tired that many mothers of young children feel. And yet it is doubly important that they, too, have time for self-care, for reflection, for enjoying nature and the world and their children and life, to help with burnout.

For parents, too, understanding flourishing means we can promote this flourishing in our children. It is a holistic approach.

No-one is always happy, or flourishing, or being intentional and purposive. That’s okay. We know that.

Overall, however, our life should have meaning and growth and pleasure, caring for others and caring for ourselves. Yes, I am talking here of loving God and neighbour.

To quote Cheryl, a character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, yet-another-movie-about-life-and-happiness: ‘I love mysteries. There’s parts you think can’t connect and then in the end they do.’

I think she is talking about life. And meaning. And purpose. And happiness.

Life, Unschooling

Reading fiction.

“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope

I’m here to proclaim that reading can be part of the greater good.

Seriously, Leonie, you might say.

Yes, seriously.

And wait. I’m not just proclaiming that reading is part of the greater good. I am also proclaiming that reading fiction is part of the greater good.

I knew this instinctively as a child, I knew that when I read literature, really good literature, I was beamed to another world. It was not merely an escape from an often chaotic childhood (though it could be argued that this was part of it). It, reading fiction, presented new ideas, new situations, allowed me to face good and evil, to formulate hypotheses about life, to decide on a code or rule of life, to be who it is that I am today.

My vocabulary changed after reading fiction. My style of speaking and writing changed after reading literature. I felt better, I acted better. I thought in different ways.

Then life stepped in. Suddenly, there was less time for “me” reading amongst reading for work and study.

I solved this problem , in part, by reading children’s literature. I love children’s literature, the pathos, the evocative turn of phrase, the sheer delight.

And reading aloud to my children brought extra joy, in shared delights.

But still, reading literature had become a sorry second or third or fourth or….. In my life.

And I think I paid the price , with less delights to share and ponder.

Reading a blog post, shared on Facebook, at the start of the year,has changed all that. The post reiterated eleven ways to be healthier and happier. And one was “Read fiction “. What?

Apparently , reading fiction improves connectivity and brain activity.

Yes! It hit me! This I already knew. I knew the effect of literature on me and on my life and in my family, I knew the delight.

So this is what I have been doing: reading more fiction. Without judgement. Without telling myself that I must. Without a pre-arranged booklist.

Just reading. When and where I can. What I want.

Plus, the other day, in discussing the current murder mystery novel of choice, I noticed my sons’ fiction lying around. Turns out that they, too, love fiction . And In noticing my reading of fiction, they have been reminded and encouraged to read more fiction themselves.

The power of story.

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Life, Unschooling

Learning and teaching

I learned lessons in my childhood, life lessons, lessons about who to be and how to be.

My sons learned these lessons, unconsciously, from me, as I lived my homeschooling life.

And they, in turn, taught me many things.

Families do that. We live together and in our everyday moments we teach and learn.

Is that magnified in a homeschooling family? I think it may be, because, you know,we spend more time together than most.

in my childhood, I learned not to be vulnerable. I learned to be resilient. I dealt with family difficulties by being perfect at school, that good girl who got good grades and never caused a fuss.

Some of these I unknowingly, I unwittingly, passed onto my sons. That resilience. That don’t make a fuss but just cope with it and move on. That strength.

Of course, the strength can mask the sorrow or pain. We are good at that in my family.

The force of strength and resilience is strong with us.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

What have my children taught me, in turn?

To be vulnerable. To have a child is to become vulnerable, because you love and are in awe of creation.

Motherhood and homeschooling made me vulnerable. Vulnerable because of love. Vulnerable to criticism. I mean, by homeschooling or, God forbid but I freely admit it, unschooling, you naturally open yourself to observation, and sometimes, to criticism. I had to face my people pleasing Hermione nature … You can’t please everyone when you are unschooling.

I learned, from my kids, that the different path can be a good path. Even if it makes me vulnerable and different and, currently, earning less than I should have done had I worked and pursued my career. Instead of pursuing unschooling.

Learning and teaching are the stuff of life. We give who we are to our families , we learn and we teach, they learn and they teach.

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Catholicism, Life, religion, Unschooling

Filling that page

Sitting in Mass on a Saturday in January. Reading the reflection provided by Father.

With what shall I fill the page of my life, my year?

With whatever it is that God wants.

“I think of this new year as a white page given to me by Your Father on which He will write, day by day, whatever His Divine good pleasure has planned. I shall now write at the top of the page with complete confidence Dominie, fac de me sic it vis, Lord, do with me what you will, and at the bottom I already write my Amen to all the proposals of your Divine will.” Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit.

That is the excitement of a new year. The not-knowing.

It can be frightening, I know. Yet it can also be freeing. Being open to His will, and being open to serendipity, can mean that our lives, and the lives of our family, are strewed with possibility.

In prayer and contemplation I like to think of adding something to our lives. Many resolutions at this time of year are riddled with don’ts or I won’ts or I musts (eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol, give up carbs, not be grumpy or angry or despairing..). It is freeing, however, to give these don’ts or wants in prayer and to think of things to add to our lives.

Turn on music. Hire some DVDs. Go to the library for new books. Declutter and see what amazing new-to-you, once forgotten, discoveries you make.

Dance. Sing. Cook. Enjoy a home-cooked meal or salad, eaten slowly, with family or with friends or even on your own with a good book.

Find movements that make you smile, that make you feel like a child. That makes you feel tough and cool and oh so athletic.

Start a family journal or scrapbook or blog or animoto or iMovie.

This is not the year for shoulds and musts and don’ts. This is the year of being with Him and of where that takes you and of, in the meantime, strewing your life and the life of your family with interesting things.

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